Aah, the fresh smell of the local fire department practising on the weekend, it must be race day at the Armidale Thunderdome. Flash bicycles, flasher bicycles, a cycling apparel fashion parade and the regular fire fighter BBQ which seemed to be a robust menu consisting of pool noodles, dry cleaning fluid and local council court records.
The afternoon commenced with confusion as the juniors circulated the track in reverse direction, “doing uphill sprints” but really shirking the wind on the main straight of the track. It must be opposite day, only confirmed when we witnessed Karlee McMillan sprinting hard into the wind, eschewing her personal philosophy of talking her opponents to death.
Andrew Swan, resplendent in new “skins” knicks and a pair of crocs he stole from a hobo in a back alley looked shattered after a tough training ride in the morning with the mad men who intend to race the Grafton to Inverell. He looked like death warmed up, minus the warm. Overheard conversation included the word “wind”, Phil Thomas calling for assistance, Peter MacDonald dropping his companions on the New England Highway without realising it and Mick Hoult requiring a defibrillator on Airport Hill. That must have been one tough ride.
It seemed like the blustering wind would keep the crit numbers fairly subdued, with a few regulars missing. At that point, Mick Sozou’s beautiful, translucent white jacket then appeared, closely followed by Mick. Mick’s jacket is a thing of wonder, something that might be seen on a Japanese hand model, selected to show just a hint of jersey (or skin!) underneath. Mick waited a while for a lull in the conversation before wetting his finger, holding it to the wind and loudly announcing his intention to decisively shed this magnificent piece of clothing, which was thrown with great care at yours truly. I was briefly humbled at the great trust Mick placed in me and I treated the jacket with an appropriate amount of reverence.
OK, major decision of the afternoon made (today, the jacket is OFF!), lets race!
Roger, with Swannies assistance set us off on a 25 minute + 2 lap handicap race with Chicka Russell displaying a fine demonstration of selective deafness by burgling into the C group starters with jacketless Mick Sozou, Dave Rubie, Dean Bourke, Wilf and Ray Phillips. C started slowly mindful of the effects of the cross wind, but settling into a workman-like pace line, patiently awaiting the chasing B and A groups to hoover them up.
B grade (Lachie McPhie, Dave Jenner and a fair bit of company) quickly made C look pedestrian, but not as much as the A grade starters: John Scott-Hamilton and Col MacIver, with John looking fitter than he has recently and Col still recovering from a virus but still whirling his legs like a highland dancer chasing a dollar coin.
The tactics in C emerged quite quickly – Wilf and Dave with a desperation far beyond their legs, Dean and Mick biding their time, the real tactical weapon being the brick wall of wind as they rounded the top corner. At the traditional swap off point, being handed the lead into the wind was like handing off a lead weight. Most chose to grab the drops, drop the head and weave just enough to make the riders behind catch a gust of it without seeming like you were being a total jerk. Some riders failed at one of these with some weaving that would furnish a discount turkish rug shop through a number of going out of business sales.
John Scott-Hamilton then appeared out of nowhere up the inside of C, his distinctive riding style unmistakeable. He hunches low over his bike, looking furtively side-to-side as if the bike was stolen or he was late on the payments. Words being exchanged by his surprise appearance were snatched by the wind as a startled C attempted to reform, only to be broken up by the larger B grade bunch, with Chicka popping out and latching onto the faster riders. Chicka proved himself the only rider smart enough to remember it was a handicap and the only rider sneaky enough to burgle down a group and wait until the faster riders were hammered. Sadly for Chicka, it didn’t work.
Reforming again, now with a tired Peter Creagan working on the front, C had lost the handicap, as had B with only a dangerous looking Dave “silent but deadly” Jenner still looking fresh. A grade emerged as a contest between a still coughing Col MacIver and John Scott-Hamilton, with John crossing the line first and quickly disappearing amidst the faint sound of sirens. Dave Jenner cleaned up the B grade bunch.
The leisurely C grade riders hit the bell with 4 riders still in contention, Jacketless Mick Sozou setting up the sprint
in typical style by sitting on the front at a moderate pace then pounding up the hill, grinding the rest of C in his leg powered meat mincer, only to pause on the main straight to verify his jacket was still safe, with Dean Bourke the only rider easily matching his pace. Ray Phillips, having gamely hung on for the first number of laps, had backed off already
by that stage, with Wilf and Dave gritting their teeth harder with each acceleration and riding erratically as the fatigue started. On the final climb, first Dave Rubie was dropped as yet again ambition exceeded ability, with Wilf being swamped at the start of the straight by a combative Mick and Dean show which ended as a warhorse like sprint which Dean won.
Bob Murison was unavailable for comment on the quality of the handicap, although we can roughly guess what he would have thought given the huge finishing gaps between the three groups. Still, as always, the Thunderdome lived up to it’s reputation as a fun and smoke filled celebration of cycling and fashion.